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Work ability forum

Comcare had the great fortune to host Professor Juhani Ilmarinen at two events during his visit to Australia. Professor Ilmarinen, formerly the director of the Work & Life course at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health is highly regarded for his research, development and pioneering in ageing and the quality of working life.

Professor Ilmarinen spoke at a Comcare Work Ability Forum presented in Canberra in partnership with the APSC on 15 February 2011 and at a dinner in Melbourne on 24 February 2011 hosted by Comcare for leaders in our jurisdiction. Professor Ilmarinen presented his model of Work Ability from Theory to Practice.

Professor Ilmarinen outlined how thirty years ago he was faced with the question ‘How long can we work?’ In a society with skill shortages and an aging workforce we now ask the question, ‘how we can tap into the talent that we already have in the workforce and remove the barriers to a life in work?’

Prof Ilmarinen described that the human ageing process continues the same way it has for thousands of years. However the demands of work are changing and barriers to continuing in work emerge as you age. His proposition is that rather than trying to change workers to adapt to work perhaps we should redesign the work and the processes around work to allow people to remain in the workforce for longer. Although it is important that we address the health and wellbeing of workers it is vital that we build the capability of our leaders to support older workers and those with health issues and act to influence values and motivation of workers and leaders.

When asked what was the key factor that influenced work ability, Professor Ilmarinen replied that leadership especially at line manager level was the key. It is important that managers and supervisors understand the positives to ageing and are able to think creatively around ways to create work and workplaces that remove barriers allow people to continue productively in work as they mature.

The forum explored how the APS could meet the challenges in work ability, capability and an ageing workforce and identify ways to ensure that organisational health initiatives are targeted and effective.

Professor Juhani Ilmarinen presents at the Work Ability ForumProfessor Juhani Ilmarinen

Professor Juhani Ilmarinen is highly regarded both in Finland and worldwide for his research, development and pioneering in ageing and the quality of working life. Formerly Director of the Work & Life course at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, it was under his leadership that the Work Ability Model and Index (WAI), an integrated and holistic approach to work based wellbeing were developed.

Professer Juhani Ilmarinen is the chair of Ageing committee of the International Ergonomics Association (IEA) and secretary of Ageing and Work Scientific Committee of the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH). In 2009 Professor Juhani Ilmarinen established JIC Ltd. The ongoing mission of the company worldwide is to implement an evidence-based model for work ability and to promote the status of all generations with respect to the concepts of age management, work ability, and the life course.

Work ability

Achieving balance between work and personal resources will vary through phases of working life depending on the following factors:

  • personal health
  • physical, psychological and social, functioning
  • knowledge, competence and skills
  • values, attitudes and motivations
  • work itself including work conditions, work content and demands, the work community and organisation, supervision and management.

This is influenced by the broader environment—the operational context, family, community, and social infrastructure.

Work ability is primarily a question of a balance between work and personal resources. In practice, people search for an optimal balance throughout their entire work life. This optimal balance may be very different in different phases of work life. In order to find a balance, work and personal resources need to be continuously combined. Personal resources change, for example, with age, whereas work demands change, for example, with globalisation and new technology. Therefore the factors affecting work ability are continuously changing.

Work ability at Comcare

Comcare, led by the Work Health team, will explore the concepts and ideas around the Work Ability model. In line with Comcare’s strategic priority to ‘Promote worker health, wellbeing and resilience’ we will identify ways these concepts can be incorporated into both our own organisation and those of our jurisdictional partners with the aim of improving the ability of the federal worker to participate in work.